Ron Hextall on free agency: Flyers hope to get better but ‘not at all costs'

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Cautiously optimistic.

That might be the best way to describe how Ron Hextall feels about free agency, which begins Friday at noon.

The Flyers' general manager is going to be very cautious in who he targets, won’t get caught up in a bidding war and is optimistic that he can find the right top-nine player at a fair price and term.

In perfect salary cap world — one in which the Flyers had oodles of money — they would be tempted by L.A.'s Milan Lucic, St. Louis’ David Backes or Boston’s Loui Eriksson.

Lucic, in many ways, is the kind of Flyer-type player the organization covets. But all three of those players are going to command more salary and term than the Flyers can afford, and Lucic appears headed to Western Canada, anyway.

The Flyers need a scoring winger.

They go into free agency with less than $12 million in salary cap space and still have to put aside close to $5 million for restricted free agent Brayden Schenn and $1 million or so for unrestricted free agent Ryan White (see story), a very valuable and versatile fourth-liner who can move around the lineup.

On top of that, Hextall needs about $2.5 million in reserve on his cap for call-ups.

Which means, without losing a contract of say $4.5 million or so, he has at best $4 million to sign a supporting cast player — not an impact player.

“I’d like to upgrade our top six, but I would certainly upgrade our top nine,” Hextall said. “We’re not going to do something that ties our hands next summer. There’s not going to be any short-term vision that doesn’t play out long term.

“I don’t want to get into a spot here where it costs us a young player and we’re forced into a deal.”

A player such as the Isles’ Kyle Okposo would be nicely suited for the Flyers. He’s going to command more dollars than the Flyers have.

So unless Hextall can move a decent-sized contract, the only way to sign an impact free-agent forward would be to gamble and go the CBA-allowed 10 percent over the cap now and hope to get under by October when the season begins.

A number of clubs, including Minnesota and Detroit, are reportedly interested in Okposo and have far more cap space.

Given the conservative approach Hextall has taken so far as GM, it’s unlikely he would go over the cap now unless he absolutely had a deal in hand to move salary.

He tried to trade at last weekend’s NHL draft in Buffalo and failed.

“We didn’t get close to that,” he said.

As it was, there were only a handful of trades during the draft.

“Every time you turn around, someone is trying to trade a pick and you almost lose touch with what is going on,” Hextall said.

“I think the cap being where it’s at kind of restricts things. Guys aren’t easy to move and a lot of teams don’t want to add too much because they can’t afford it.”

This week saw two significant deals leading into free agency involving P.K. Subban and Shea Weber, plus Taylor Hall and Adam Larsson.

And the top pending free agent, Steven Stamkos, re-signed for eight years in Tampa Bay for $68 million.

Don’t be shocked if Hextall waits a few days to see if the market changes for certain players and price tags to come down.

“July 1 is a funny day,” Hextall said. “Now the cap, it’s somewhat flat. Might be some guys out there who are good buys, but that is not going to happen July 1. It’s usually [July] 5th or 10th or 15th when guys figure out there’s not much out there.”

One thing to keep in mind is the Flyers also recognize that defensive prospect Ivan Provorov and forward prospect Travis Konecny could both make the roster this fall.

Such a scenario would add a total of about $1.79 million onto their cap. Hextall has to figure that into the equation, as well.

One player the Flyers had genuine interest in was Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey, the unsigned prospect originally drafted by Nashville in 2012.

The Preds traded his rights to Buffalo at the draft and have until Aug. 15 to sign him or Vesey becomes a free agent.

A possible “stopgap” player today for the Flyers would be Toronto’s P.A. Parenteau, a 20-goal guy, who even at age 33, would upgrade coach Dave Hakstol’s offense at a reasonable price.

He’s the kind of bargain player Hextall seems more inclined to target if he can’t move salary for a top-six winger.

“We’re committed to getting better,” Hextall said. “Just not at all costs. At a reasonable cost.”

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